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Why So Big? Rethinking Fire Truck Design

When they're not extinguishing actual flames, fire trucks can seem comically over-sized on city streets. Replacing portions of the fleet with smaller response vehicles might save money without sacrificing capability.
February 7, 2016, 9am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Chad Kainz

One can imagine the frustration of first responders as they maneuver bulky vehicles through tight city streets. "It's no wonder firefighters in places like San Francisco, where the government has been pushing to improve safety by narrowing streets, call for the wider roads." 

But maybe fire departments should adapt to streets. After all, the equipment aboard large fire engines is only necessary during a small minority of calls. Linda Poon writes, "Fighting actual fire makes up only a small portion of what firefighters do. Of the 31.9 million calls routed to all U.S. fire departments in 2013, only 1.2 million (or about 4 percent) were fire-related, according to the latest data from the National Fire Protection Association."

While it goes without saying that departments shouldn't impair their firefighting capabilities, smaller vehicles could respond effectively to most calls. "Some places, like Beaufort County in South Carolina, have opted for smaller 'all purpose response' vehicles. In 2010, its fire department had to replace three fire trucks, which would have cost them $1.4 million total. Instead the department ended up buying one new fire truck and replacing the other two with all-purpose cars the size of a pickup truck, paying just $675,000."

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Published on Thursday, January 21, 2016 in CityLab
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